A former soldier has opened up on how offering fellow veterans renewed purpose through wheelchair rugby helped turn his life around.

Gary Pettit thought he would never play rugby again after an injury, suffered whilst parachuting out of a Hercules military aircraft in 1993, grew worse and eventually left his right knee beyond repair.

Gary was discharged from the Navy on medical grounds in 2000.

Always a keen rugby player, Gary was searching for a wheelchair rugby club he could train with as he prepared for his Invictus Games trials in 2018.

After a fruitless search for a Cumbrian wheelchair rugby club to join, he did the only natural thing and decided to create one himself.

The Penrith Pumas - believed to be Cumbria’s only wheelchair rugby team - was born in 2020.

Now, the club are looking to participate in their first competitive competition, implemented by the non-profit organisation, Great Britain Wheelchair Rugby (GBWR).

However, the club means so much more than providing would-be players with the opportunity to play competitively, according to Gary.

“I never in my wildest dreams that I would be where I am now. Through sports recovery, I have found a new purpose in life,” said Gary

“I never knew that a disability sport could bring so much joy back into peoples’ lives. It’s phenomenal.”

He added that the sport has given “purpose” back to the lives of some of the players.

Wheelchair rugby is a fully inclusive sport, and able bodied players are also welcome to join the club.

“No one is turned away”, said Gary, who added that anyone is welcome to train with the team and take on additional roles such as refereeing and coaching.

However, would-be players are cautioned that the sport loses none of its brutality as soon as it is played in wheelchairs.

Gary said: “Our chairs are made for full contact.

“When it [the sport] was first put together, it was called murder ball. There’s no messing around.

“If someone is in front of you, then you hit them full on with the chair to get them out of the way. You can get turned over in your chair and you can pop tyres within a few seconds of being hit.

“It is a full contact sport for anybody.”

The Covid-19 lockdown left the future of the club doubt, but becoming a community interest company and kind support has allowed the Pumas to fight back.

If you are interested in taking part in training or volunteering at the club, contact Gary through enquiries@penrithpumas.co.uk, or call 07907910197.

The team train at Penrith Leisure Centre on Tuesdays between 6pm and 8pm.

You can also find out what the Pumas are up to on their Facebook page.